If I were a teenager today, I would certainly have a better body image than the one I had back in the day. Our body image, how we see ourselves — be it in the mirror or our mind’s eye — is directly connected to our feelings and/or perceptions about our looks, height, weight and shape. I was 5’ 9” when I entered high school and 6’ when I left, and in those days, tall was neither fashionable nor exotic. In fact, quite the opposite. I was long-legged, skinny, freckled and flat chested, and regularly teased with monikers, like giraffe, giant and beanstalk. While these names were just teenagers being teenagers, at the time, I was extremely self-conscious about my height, and such tags did little to help build my confidence in my female identity.
Looking back, I wasn’t as hopeless as I felt. I remember one boy in 7th grade, Sammy N (names have been changed to protect the innocent), who seemingly had a crush on me. He often flirted with me, and while obviously surprised by his attention, I was also flattered by it. He was handsome, charming and funny, with a twinkle in his eye. I liked him, but in my eyes, there was a huge impediment to our possible coupling. He was as short as I was tall. I could not imagine us together, walking side by side… my long legs and his short ones. I was far too self-conscious of my height in those days. I owe you an apology, Sammy. It was completely my shortcoming!
In my second year of high school, I opted for a short haircut, and shortly afterwards I was mistaken for a boy, more than once. It was another excruciatingly painful and embarrassing moment and a blow to my already fragile sexual identity. What do you even say to someone who confuses you for the opposite sex? “Excuse me, but I’m a girl.” “I’m a girl, jerk! Do you need glasses or a stronger prescription?” I don’t think I said anything, but I must have had a horrified expression on my face as I slunk away. This kind of incident pretty much levels your self-esteem.
In those days, I was angry at life and the small town USA I called home. I wanted to fit in, and then again I didn’t! I really wanted to skip town! It was one of the contradictions of my adolescence. Fortunately, things began looking up as soon as I entered college and found myself in a sea of 18,000 undergraduates. By sheer numbers alone, I no longer stuck out so sorely. There were other tall students, male and female. It was a welcome feeling to feel lost in a crowd and a refreshing awakening to see tall women who seemed comfortable and confident in their bodies. And even better, a good number of the tall males made me feel less tall. At some point during that period of my life, I began to grow into my height, or rather focus less on it.
And then not very long afterwards, came the advent of Supermodels and being a tall female took on a whole new dimension. I am happy to see that height doesn’t seem to bother girls today. The tall girls I know appreciate their stature. It’s obviously better to accept our physical characteristics than to fight a losing battle, but that mindset is not necessarily easy or pain free. Of course, it’s not the point of being tall, short or somewhere in the middle, or skinny, healthy (which used to be considered a good thing!), big-boned, or dark haired, lighter skinned, green-eyed, and curly haired, etc. It’s about being comfortable in your skin, whatever the age. That’s really what we need to remember, and sometimes we need to be reminded of it.